What just happened?

2020 Was a very intense year for many left behind parents and their children. Due to COVID restrictions, I did not get to see my daughter and I probably won’t see her until 2021. This is highly relevant as my daughter is 16 and ‘[Article 4 of] The Convention [states that it] shall cease to apply when the child attains the age of 16 years’. Yep – we’ve all just lost two years of access. Suffice to say, I am devastated.

Personally, I’m not looking for loopholes to facilitate access in spite of travel bans. I remain optimistic that once the global pandemic is over, a compromise will be met. More on that later, but now is a time for cool heads rather than anger. As noted in my post about COVID, my daughter’s step-dad has been pretty reasonable about COVID, so I will continue to assume good faith on their behalf.

How am I going?

All things considered, I am doing pretty well. My job is stable (I recently got a small promotion), my family is safe (no active COVID cases in my city or my daughter’s city) and the freedom of working from him has been a blessing. I feel very lucky because I have avoided some of the worst events of 2020.

Indirectly related to my daughter, my family in Australia is stable. We have a lovely little house. I have been doing a lot of gardening during COVID. Also, we recently added a new bedroom so that (for example) my mother can stay with us when she visits. It’s a comfortable, friendly home. I am proud to have played a role in building this. One of my biggest fears has always been that one day my daughter will want to see me and I’ll have to say ‘there is nothing here… I have no job and cannot accommodate you in a rundown, dingy, rented apartment… I am sorry’. Today this might sound unrealistic. However, there was a time when I was heading down that path. I’m glad that I have the stability to accommodate our daughter if she ever chooses to visit.

In addition to the above, my wife and I leveraged the economic uncertainty of 2020 to purchase a great little investment property (a modern townhouse). While I feel a little bit guilty about this, my daughter and I haven’t had a lot of wins in our lives. We have both been victims of DV and abduction that I estimate has put my career back at least 10 years. I cannot yet calculate how far back it has put her but I hope we can both make up for that lost time.

Overall I think 2020 was a win. I have done the best with the cards I was dealt and feel like I’m on the front foot. While I’ve had very limited access to my daughter, I feel like I’ve been building a strong platform to support her when the time comes that she is able to approach me directly.

What worries me?

For 2020, COVID-19 has most certainly been my biggest worry. My daughter has provided me with monthly updates on Japan’s situation and I continue to monitor the new cases each day. It’s scary! Japan is currently experiencing a fourth wave that is significantly bigger than the other three. If the curve doesn’t flatten quickly, they could be in a similar situation to that of the UK, USA and much of Europe. Touch wood my daughter’s (small) prefecture has largely avoided it. However, my daughter is extremely scared of big cities. During our last chat I said ‘your town is safe… but the bigger cities are a little bit worrying’. She usually doesn’t talk much or show a lot of emotion because her step dad’s leaning over her. However, Her face immediately changed and she corrected me… ‘no… Tokyo and Osaka are VERY dangerous right now… VERY dangerous, you know?’ This is just one insight. However, it’s at the forefront of my memory. People in regional Japan are extremely scared of what’s happening in the big cities.

Building off the above, I don’t realistically think that international travel will be possible until 2022. Health impacts aside, I think this inadvertently provides abductors with a free kick… or rather, a direct kick at goal without a goalie in the box. Nobody has been talking about remedies for this. Compared with 2020, my mother will be two years older in 2022 (close to 80). Touch wood she is in very good health, but when will it be safe for her to travel again? Will it ever be safe at all? I think the world is 100% correct to restrict movement/travel for as long as possible. However, it still doesn’t make me happy to have lost two direct visitations. Let’s just hope that absence really does make the heart grow fonder…

Has the political pendulum shifted?

Broadly speaking, I think global politics have shifted, but I don’t know where to. I hope to a nicer, less confrontational place. However, it really depends which angle you take.

Japan and the USA now have new leaders. It’s too early to see any change, assuming there is any. However, new leadership always presents opportunities. I wish both leaders the best for the year ahead and hope that for everyone’s sake we can see less tensions on a global scale.

In particular, I hope that once COVID-19 has ended, groups from all sides can calm down a little bit. I think that the last few years have been dominated by outrage. Whether it be ‘how dare you’ mantras or anger about ‘freedoms’ being restricted – we can do better.

Globally, local politics continue to be small-minded and self-centred. However, I see a glimmer of light appearing with COVID-19. I see people starting to say ‘hey… this is about all of us working together on a global scale to get rid of this darn pandemic’. While there are hiccups and blame games, it has been fascinating seeing the world respond to a common challenge. Hopefully some of the positive lessons learned will be carried into the future.

What did I learn?

In 2020, I learned that some things are bigger than us and that we can’t always focus on our individual dilemmas. Personally, I think that international travel in order to see my daughter trumps just about every reason I can think of the be exempt from travel restrictions. But does it really?

I’ve learned that attitudes within western countries are more different than I thought, and that people can get very angry when asked to make decisions for the good of other people’s well-being. If online discourse in the communities I frequent is a good sample group, a well worn argument seems to be that people from the USA/UK with ‘permanent jobs’ are having their livelihoods destroyed because Japan is shutting them out. When I test these assertions by asking whether these people have PR or contracts that are going to last more than 12 months, they generally reveal that this story is just a guise for their actual opinion. That is, they think that travel restrictions are stupid per se (usually on the basis that COVID-19 kills 1 in 100 people, they don’t currently have it and they’re willing to engage with the risk of them getting it).

As a father desperately wanting to see his daughter, the above has taught me to think a bit deeper than my personal needs. I’m fit and young so in all likelihood I wouldn’t die if I got COVID-19, neither would my daughter. However, what if (while wearing a mask) I touched a surface in an international airport, had asymptomatic COVID-19 and spread it to even a small number of people? Even if they didn’t die… what impact would this have on various small communities that have been largely shielded from COVID-19? What would the locals who are skeptical about gaijins think about my daughter and I? I think that even a small outbreak would completely ruin our reputation within society. It’s just not worth it. In 2022 I’ll be back in Japan and I’ll be proudly saying ‘I coulda come but I didn’t because I love your communities and care about your welfare’.

To me, the above shows how my relationship with Japan has evolved. When my daughter was abducted I was depressed, frustrated and somewhat bitter with the world. While I’m no angel, I’m glad that each year my relationship with Japan enables me to think a little deeper about what’s going on and find positive solutions to life’s challenges.

Predictions and resolutions for 2021?

I’ve touched on this, but I don’t think international travel will be viable in 2021. I think the Tokyo Olympics will go ahead, but they won’t involve masses of overseas fans flocking to the country. Rather, travel will still very much be restricted.

I think the opportunity will exist for me to visit my daughter, but the logistics, cost and broader health considerations will prevent me from doing it.

To put me in a better place when we are finally able to travel, I am looking to do the following in 2021:

  • Practice Japanese every day. While my Japanese is ‘conversational’, I’d like to get my writing up to a point where I can confidently pass the JLPT (even if it’s only N5 or N4, that’s a benchmark and I need to commit to improving my written Japanese).
  • Keep up my fitness. For the past few years I have been doing a fair bit of running (distances from 10km to 25km). I would like to do at least two half marathons in 2021 if circumstances permit (I’d also love to do one in Japan… maybe this will be possible if I can arrange two visitations in 2022).
  • Negotiate more significant visitation arrangements for 2022. I don’t know what will be possible yet but I want to make up for lost time. While I probably won’t see my daughter in 2021, I will have a lot of time to make plans for a better 2022.